Chessie is an alleged marine monster in American folklore. It is supposedly a serpentine cryptid that lives in the Chesapeake Bay and its environs.
There have been reports of sightings of Chessie since the mid-1800s.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has since adopted the monster as a mascot for its environmental protection awareness advocacy.
In 1986, the agency published a children’s coloring book Chessie: A Chesapeake Bay Story, designed to educate young children on environmental pollution issues.
The name was likely inspired by the famous Nessie, Scotland’s Loch Ness resident monster.
Eyewitnesses give different accounts of Chessie. Most accounts agreed it was a snake-like creature without fins and flippers. It was a finless, limbless, and hornless snake-like monster with a black color. Estimations of its length ranged from 12-40 feet.
Chessie, a black creature floating on water
In 1934, Francis Klarrman and Edward Ward described it as a black creature floating on water. The part of the creature visible above the water was about 12 feet long.
The head was about the size of a football and shaped like a horse’s head. It repeatedly turned its head around as it floated past. According to the men, it appeared that it could turn its head all the way around.
In the late 1970s, Donald Kyker, a former CIA employee, reported sighting four Chessies swimming in the Chesapeake Bay waters. He said the creature was about 25-40 feet in length and about a foot across.
It had an oval head with no notable features. It also had no visible limbs.
In July 1980, a witness who reported sighting Chessie in the Magothy River described it as having three thick and dark triangle-shaped humps.
Chessie: A brownish, snake-like aquatic animal
Robert and Karen Frew of Love Point, Kent Island, reported sighting Chessie in Chesapeake Bay waters on Memorial Day, May 1982.
They described the cryptid as a dark “object” about 30 feet in length floating on the water. Robert described it as a dark serpentine form that swam with an undulating motion.
He captured a video of the creature. According to authors Matthew Lake and Mark Moran in their book Weird Maryland (2006), scientists at the Smithsonian institution’s Museum of Natural History examined the video.
Zoologist George Zug and his colleagues said the quality of the video was not good enough to draw definite conclusions besides the fact that it showed an “animate” creature.
Enhancement of the video by experts at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory revealed a “brownish, snake- or eel-like aquatic animal, round like a telephone pole, with humps along its back and a football-shaped head.”
They concluded that because the creature appeared to have its head out of the water so much of the time, it likely didn’t have gills.
They also speculated that it probably ate bluefish because previous sightings occurred between April and the end of summer when bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix) was plentiful in Atlantic waters.
A serpentine creature 20-25 feet long
Chris Gardner reported sighting Chessie on August 5, 2014 in the Magothy River. In statement published in Bay Weekly, Gardner desribed it as a serpentine creature about 20-25 feet long.
Chessie wasn’t a fish because it did not have fins. It had a head shaped like a football. Due to the low light Gardner wasn’t sure whether it had scales or leathery skin but it seemed to have a glossy dark black color.
The creature’s head and tail breached the water but the rest of the body was submerged. It swam with sinuous undulations (wavelike) suggestive of a serpentine monster.
The witness recalled wondering whether there were two monsters or one but decided, based on the wavelike pattern of water disturbance, that it was only one.
The witness was too busy watching the creature in the water and trying to figure out what it might be that he didn’t think of taking a photograph or video with his cellphone. The sighting made such a deep impression on the witness that he called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
What is Chessie?
Zeuglodons (genus Basilosaurus)
Based on the expert analysis, some cryptozoologists suggested that Chessie might be a surviving member of prehistoric creatures called Zeuglodons (genus Basilosaurus), first described in 1834.
Basilosaurus (“king lizard”) were predatory creatures that lived about 33.9 million to 41.3 million years ago in the late Eocene.
Although the name Basilosaurus suggested they were giant reptiles, subsequent studies confirmed they were marine mammals like whales.
Mutant eel theory
Others proposed, usually tongue-in-cheek, that Chessie might be a mutant eel created by the contamination of Chesapeake waters by the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant.
Giant Anaconda theory
A third theory was that Chessies might be descendants of a group of giant South American anacondas (Eunectes sp.) that escaped from 18th- and 19th-century ships in Baltimore.
Ships allegedly raised anacondas to control rats in the holds. When the ship owners decommissioned and abandoned them, the anacondas escaped and adapted to life in the surrounding estuaries.
Sightings and Tales
The first reported Chessie sighting on record occurred around 1846.
A person identified as Captain Lawson reported seeing a sea monster with a small head in the waters between Cape Charles and Cape Henry on the Atlantic shores.
Francis Klarrman and Edward Ward
In 1934, two fishermen, Francis Klarrman and Edward Ward claimed to have seen a strange creature while fishing in a boat near Baltimore.
They saw the sea monster from about 70 meters away. They first thought it was a large object floating on the water but soon realized it was an animal.
Walter L. Myers
In 1963, a helicopter pilot, Walter L. Myers, reported sighting Chessie while flying over the lower Bush River area.
The Bush River is an estuary northeast of Baltimore. It runs from Riverside (Belcamp) in Hartford County to Chesapeake Bay.
Myers wrote about his experience in a letter to Senator George W. Della.
He assured the senator that despite widespread skepticism, Chessie was real and that his eyes had not deceived him. He declared that he knew what he saw.
Chessie fans got the first hint there might be a family of Chessies in the bay when in the late 1970s, Donald Kyker, a former CIA employee, and his neighbors reported seeing four monsters close to shore.
In 1978, residents reported seeing Chessie around Calvert Cliffs State Park in Southern Maryland and later in the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
Is Chessie a manatee?
In 1980, the Evening Sun published a sketch of a strange-looking creature by Trudy Guthrie. The witness claimed to have seen a monster that some believed was Chessie.
However, experts concluded that Guthrie’s drawing was likely of a manatee.
Cryptozoologists do not consider manatees likely candidates for Chessie because accounts described Chessie as serpentine. Most witnesses said it swam with an undulating (side-to-side) serpentine motion, unlike a manatee.
Manatees (genus Trichechus) are large aquatic mammals. The herbivorous creatures, also known as sea cows, feed on freshwater and marine plants. They may measure more than 13 feet in length and weigh nearly 600kg.
They are warm water creatures that live in the coastal waters and rivers of the Caribbean sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the waters around Florida. They occasionally wander up north as far as the Chesapeake Bay.
Chesapeake Bay’s celebrity manatee Chessie
Officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources rescued a male manatee from the waters of the Bay in October 1994. They returned it to the warm waters of Florida.
The manatee, nicknamed Chessie, returned in 1995 and multiple times in subsequent years.
He was again spotted in 2010 in the upper Patapsco River near Baltimore and off the coast of Calvert County on July 12, 2011.
Multiple sightings in 1980
In July 1980, a witness reported seeing Chessie on the Magothy River.
In August, Rosamond Hayes of Alexandria allegedly saw a sea creature in the Prospect Bay area of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
In September, another person alleged seeing a strange creature that was not a manatee near the Bay Bridge Tunnel of Virginia Beach.
Robert and Karen Frew
Robert and Karen Frew of Love Point, Kent Island, provided alleged video evidence of Chessie in May 1982.
The couple was entertaining friends at their home when around 7:30 pm, Robert sat to watch a group of swimmers in the bay.
As he was enjoying the scenery, he noticed something dark and serpentine floating in the water toward the group of swimmers.
When it came close to the swimmers, it dived and reappeared on the side of the unsuspecting group.
Robert alerted his guests to the object. They watched as it floated near the shore.
Robert filmed it and shared the footage with a local TV station. The video, which lasted nearly five-minute, included two minutes of what appeared to be a serpentine creature in the water.
Chessies don’t eat people
Frew, who was trained in wildlife management at the University of Maine, could not identify the species. But he insisted that what he saw was not a “run-of-the-mill animal.”
He reasoned that the creature was not afraid of people because it swam close to them. It neither ate people nor was it interested in them because when it came close to the group, it dived and reappeared on the other side.
Bob told WBALTV in 2017 that at least six people witnessed the incident from his home. He said the monster swam to Clover Field on the other side of the island, where an artist saw and sketched it.
He claimed that the artist’s independently produced sketch was like what he filmed.
According to WBALTV, multiple people also reported seeing Chessie near Kent Island.
Bob speculated that Chessie frequented the waters around Kent Island because it fed on bluefish and thus followed their migratory movements.
Marine experts acknowledge that bluefish are migratory marine species. They migrate seasonally along the U.S. Atlantic coast.
More recent sightings
In 1997, a person reported sighting a sea monster swimming very close to the shore near Fort Smallwood Park.
On August 5, 2014, Chris Gardner, a Maryland resident, reported seeing Chessie swimming past their car parked close to the banks of the Magothy River on Arundel Beach Road.
|Other Name/s||Chessie, Chesapeake Bay monster, Chesapeake Bay Sea Monster, Chesapeake Bay Sea Serpent|
Where to find
Weird Maryland. Matthew Lake, Mark Moran, 2006.
Monsters of Maryland: Mysterious Creatures in the Old Line State, Ed Okonowicz, 2012.
https://web.archive.org/web/20160314231515/http://aqua.org/blog/2010/october/a-manatee-in-maryland, “A manatee in Maryland,” accessed on February 12, 2023.
https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1994-10-08-1994281037-story.html, “Manatee returns ‘home’,” Katherine Richards, accessed on February 12, 2023.
https://bayweekly.com/chasing-chessie/, “Chasing Chessie,” Chris Gardner, accessed on February 12, 2023.
https://www.wbaltv.com/article/legend-of-chessie-alive-well-in-maryland/13126354, “Legend of Chessie alive, well in Maryland,” accessed on February 12, 2023.
https://www.chesapeakeconservation.org/chessie-the-chesapeake-bay-sea-monster/, “Chessie: The Chesapeake Bay Sea Monster,” accessed on February 12, 2023.
- Chessie is an alleged serpentine monster that lives in Chesapeake Bay. Pic credit: Pixaby